I remember central Oregon back in the innocent days. My family has lived in central Oregon for five generations. I once drove a delivery truck route that included Wasco, Jefferson, Sherman, Gilliam, Wheeler and Crook counties. I got to know a lot of ranchers and farmers during that time. Those were the days of trust and respect. There were few fences and even fewer Keep Out signs. Back then if you wanted to go hunting or hiking on private land you would go up to the house, knock on the door, introduce yourself and ask permission to do what it was that you wanted to do on the owner’s property. Nine times out of ten the owner would be glad to oblige. Unfortunately those days are over.
Lately a cause for closure seems to be photographers that just can’t resist crossing a fence or ignoring a sign to get their photo. The more that this happens the more that the property owners will fight back. Many locations that are being blocked are locations where a photograph from the edge of the fenceline could be just as beautiful.
I have gone up to homes and asked permission. I introduce myself, hand them a business card and then ask if they would allow me to access the place that I want to access. Many times they’ve said no, but there have been other times when they respect that you asked, gave me warnings or restrictions on where I can’t go for my safety and then said OK. I’ve even had property owners take me to places on their land where they thought I may be able to get a beautiful photo.
This problem is not exclusive to private land. The last few years have exposed many acts of carelessness or vandalism to our public lands. Everything from removing rocks and driving through the Racetrack playa at Death Valley to blasting a motorhome through the standing water at the Bonneville Salt flats to people walking out off of a boardwalk in Yellowstone to the edge of a geyser for a photo to graffiti painted on rocks throughout several National Parks – The list goes on and on.
This is an appeal to my fellow photographers to keep this in mind if they are tempted to cross boundaries. Take a hike in the national forests to less photographed and accesed areas instead of crossing fences. When we’re out in the field we’re representatives of every photographer and ambassadors of the craft. Become a member of a local photography club as they will organize meetups and photoshoots at locations that aren’t normally accessible to the public. Volunteer to clean up or remediate areas that have been affected by the higher traffic that the popularity of photography has caused such as county, state or federal parks and hiking trails.
Become an instrument for change through positive effort and practices that shed a positive light on the photography community. Lead by example and teach others to do the same. Together we can reduce the efforts to close off the areas that we enjoy photographing. The only rules that we should break are the rules of composition.